Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Relief concerts- separate but equal?

An excellent New York Times article (Cultural Divisions Stretch to Relief Concerts) about how the different benefit shows for Katrina reveal differences in demographics and a not-so-unified reaction among music genres got me thinking about the two recent telethons I'd seen. For the biggest one (Shelter From the Storm, September 9th, carried by all the major networks), these notes:

- Chris Rock- "George Bush hates midgits," he said mischeously before he began his speech to plea for donations.

- Many of the TV/movie stars who also appeared to make appeals (Cameron Diaz, Don Cheadle, Jennifer Aniston) were obviously holding back tears as they spoke. Hard not to feel the same seeing them or hearing them.

- Randy Newman's "Louisiana 1927" became the unofficial theme song of the disaster with Newman singing the song at the beginning of the telethon. The last verse goes like this:

President Coolidge came down in a railroad train
With a little fat man with a note-pad in his hand
The President say, "Little fat man isn't it a shame what the river has
done To this poor crackers land."

The pious tone of the song and the chorus ("Louisiana/they're trying to wash us away") is remembered more than those condescendingly cruel lines, which happen to have a lot of weight today.

(I'd also recommend Bob Dylan's "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall," which I don't suggest to sound cute. Like Newman's song, it strikes a haunting tone and while the words are a catalog of surreal, unimaginable suffering, but unlike Newman's song, it has hope and determination within it also.
In the middle of the wasteland, the singer vows:
"And I'll tell it and think it and speak it and breathe it,
And reflect it from the mountain so all souls can see it,
Then I'll stand on the ocean until I start sinkin',
But I'll know my song well before I start singin'"
It's the sound of man who won't forget what he's seen and won't let others forget.)

- Kanye's set was riddled technical problems (feedback in the beginning left him unsure about when to start) but he did deliver this improv- "if I had to lose my mother... if I had to stay in the Superdome..." after the network bleeped out some of the 'niggarz' from the lyrics (interestingly enough, some of the radio stations are doing the same with his recent hit "Gold Digger").

- Garth Brooks' "Who'll Stop the Rain" and the Foo Fighters "Born on the Bayou" meant that John Fogerty was the unofficial musical hero here.

Then there was also less publicized BET telethon which was being broadcast at the same time (and raised about one third of the money of the Shelter telethon). It was quite a contrast as this was full of light-heartedness, which is what you need sometimes in times of tragedy to stay sane. It was less pious but much more enjoyable to watch and no less serious about reaching out to viewers for help.

- Mary J. Blige's segment was so beautiful and heartbreaking, it was difficult to watch.

- Chris Rock back saying "George Bush hates albinos" etc.

- Kanye's appearance here was an explanation of his vilified comments about Bush. "(They) make the black people seem like animals... I turned away from the screen because it's so messed up... I just let my heart speak for myself, (not) what it would mean for myself financially." Host Steve Harvey appeared afterward and said: "We love you brother and we understand what you're trying to say"

- In a phone interview, Bill Clinton was treated like a hero. Harvey and co-host Queen Latifah made no bones about how they're prefer him to be in charge again. As to what should have been done, Clinton wisely said that the Feds should be "getting FEMA back to being independent and find someone competent to run it." And "in addition to helping people, we should try to make their situation better when we rebuild" (something Bush said later in his New Orleans speech).


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